Anyone who’s ever travelled to Sardinia may have heard of the local delicacy that is Casu Marzu.
Some of you may have even tried it ‘illegally’ – believe it or not, it’s actually banned in the EU.
Casu Marzu literally means ‘rotten cheese’ when translated from Sardinian.
This translation might already give us an idea as to why it was classed as the “most dangerous cheese in the world for human health” by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009.
However, we haven’t got to the bottom of things just yet.
Have you just eaten? Well, maybe hold off on reading the post for a moment – what’s coming up is only for those with a strong stomach…
So what is Casu Marzu?
Casu Marzu is a rotten cheese which starts life as the local, and extremely tasty, Sardinian Fiore Sardo pecorino cheese – a cheese made using sheep’s milk.
What makes this ‘rotten cheese’ very particular, is that it’s is not just old sheep’s cheese – what makes Casu Marzu infamous, is the fact that it’s filled with thousands of maggots.
Just let that sink in for just a second…
In Italy, the country world-renowned for its cuisine, they eat rotten maggot cheese?
Well, in case you weren’t aware, Sardinia has never really been like the rest of Italy, it tends to do its own thing – another reason why I love the place!
Now, I have been living in Sardinia for almost 3 years, and I still haven’t worked up the courage to try this cheese yet – so I don’t blame you if you’re already disgusted.
During my world travels I’ve tried some strange things, but maggot cheese is unfortunately where I draw the line!
So where can you buy Casu Marzu?
Casu Marzu has been around for thousands of years apparently, but in 1962 it was banned by the Italian State. Then, in 2002 it was also banned by the European Union, due to it being ‘unsafe’.
This decision made the cheese illegal to produce and sell anywhere in the EU.
There’s always a way around these things though – some sheep farmers in central Sardinia produce the cheese for ‘personal consumption’.
If you’d like to try it, you can, but you can’t pay for it. Maybe you can make a small cash offer to the farmer for the upkeep of his sheep.
This offer is definitely not a payment for the cheese though… Wink wink.
So why is Casu Marzu banned?
It’s rotten cheese with maggots.
Maggots that are actually eaten. ALIVE. Inside the cheese. Spread on top of Sardinian Carasau flatbread.
Now, the EU is usually pretty relaxed about allowing ‘unusual’ traditional foods to be produced and sold – I’m looking at you Scottish Haggis – but they obviously put the limit at live maggot rotten cheese.
How do you make Casu Marzu?
Casu Marzu is not just cheese that’s been allowed to rot – there’s a relative science to it.
The Sardinian sheep farmers cut open fresh wheels of Fiore Sardo Pecorino cheese, and then leave them to the elements – this is so the tiny Piophila casei fly lays its eggs inside.
This isn’t just any fly, it’s known as the ‘cheese fly’ as it’s usually specifically drawn to cheese or milk.
Shortly after being laid, the eggs mature into maggots. The maggots begin feeding on the cheese and digest the fats, excreting the remains as a creamy cheese substance. The maggots usually need up to three months to ‘work their magic’.
It’s this leftover digested cheese that then takes the name, Casu Marzu. The Sardinian sheep farmers jokingly refer to it as Sardinian Viagra!
How does Casu Marzu taste?
Depending on what your own taste buds are like, the cheese is either slightly spicy, sweet, or acidic – with a hint of bitterness.
Cheese aficionados often liken the taste of Casu Marzu to a stronger type of Gorgonzola.
But, what about the maggots? Well, they just apparently taste like the cheese itself.
Word of warning though, I’ve heard that the larvae do jump (sometimes up to 15cm high). With this in mind, my advice is to cover the top of the cheese while eating, just to avoid getting hit in the face by the tiny cheese eaters.
You’ve made it to the end, congratulations!
Have you ever tried Casu Marzu? Let me know in the comments…